Sunday, July 10, 2011

McKracken, Rocks survive steam bath for 5-0 win at Lakeville

It was an absolute scorcher at Lakeville South High School yesterday afternoon, as the Athletics hosted the Minneapolis Rocks.

The hot, humid, sweat-drenching weather was wearisome for both teams, but Minneapolis was able to labor the conditions better than Lakeville. In a game that lasted less than two hours, pitcher Kyle McKracken breezed through the Athletics lineup and led the Rocks to a 5-0 win.

"[I had] good command today,” McKracken said. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot of velocity, but I just tried to work off my off-speed pitches and throw the fastball enough to make the off-speed effective.”

“I tried to keep my pitch count low, too, because it was so hot,” he said. “So I tried to keep my team off the field as much as possible.”

McKracken worked quickly and faced just two batters over the minimum through seven shutout innings (including retiring his last 10 batters). However, partially due to heat exhaustion, he gave way to Rocks reliever Kirby Morsching, who sealed the victory with a pair of perfect innings to end the game.

Offensively, Minneapolis was led by its spark plug shortstop, Tim Churchill, who played spotless defense and was 4-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored.

Churchill had two singles, a double, a triple and two steals for the game.

“I’ve come off a couple games where I hit the ball hard but [hit it] right at people, so I think it was kind of my day today where the ball was falling.”

The game began with Mark Berger on the bump for Lakeville.

Berger made it through the first inning okay. He encountered some struggles in the second, but combined with leftfielder Eric Watts for a nice defensive play to escape danger without allowing a run.

Minneapolis’ Paul Bissonette led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a stolen base. Berger retired the next two batters before Rocks third baseman Mark Bearmon slapped a single to left that appeared it could drive in Bissonette. However, Watts came up with a cannon shot toward home, which Berger cut off in front of the plate, threw to first and caught Bearmon retreating to the base.

The game remained scoreless momentarily, but the Rocks broke through in the third.

Morsching began the damage with a lead-off double to deep right. Two batters later, Churchill drove him in with a solid single to right. Berger struck out Rocks first baseman Luke Sather for the second out. However, Churchill swiped second base during the at-bat and came in to score as Aaron Larson followed with a bloop a single to right.

Up 2-0, the Rocks would tack on two more in the fifth. Berger retired Ryan Sele on a fly to right, but then came up that pesky Rocks shortstop again. It was in this at-bat where Churchill really powered up, pounding the hardest hit ball of the day. He found a Berger offering to his liking and smashed it to deep left-center, pegging the fence on one hop for a booming double.

“It felt good,” Churchill said. “It was a slider that started in and broke over the middle of the plate. I knew [Berger] was coming slider after he threw a first pitch fastball, because it was the first fastball I saw all day.”

Sather followed Churchill’s blast with a walk. The two then executed a double steal, but Lakeville catcher Brent Johnson made an errant throw to second as well. Johnson’s throw was late and in the dirt, but his error could be shared by Athletics shortstop Eddie Golom and second baseman Nick Daniels as well, as the ball trickled by them and allowed Churchill to scamper home and give Minneapolis a 3-0 lead.

Another Lakeville error allowed a fourth Rocks run to score. Berger allowed another single to Bearmon to put two runners on, but he was then able to retire Cousins to bring the inning and his outing to a close.

John Degerness came in to pitch in relief and had some success against the Rocks. The sidewinder kept the Rocks in check, pitching scoreless sixth and seventh innings.

On the other side, however, the Athletics batters could not crack McKracken. The Rocks starter continued to leave the Lakeville in the lurch, retiring 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced.

Minneapolis (13-12-1) prevailed with the victory as the Rocks tandem of McKracken and Churchill - who also played with each other for four years at Bethel University - was too much for the Athletics to handle.

The loss followed Lakeville’s 14-1 loss against Eagan on Saturday.

Degerness was not happy with his team’s hitting effort but took some solace in his team’s defense - which made several plays and committed two errors yesterday, compared with its lackluster, five-error performance Saturday.

“It wasn’t as bad of a loss in that we didn’t beat ourselves today,” Degerness said. “We played solid defense out there and they earned what the got.”

Lakeville (4-13) returns to action on Wednesday, as the team heads to Elko for a 7:30 p.m. contest against the Express.

**I was the public announcer for this game. I couldn't take in-game photos, but took a pair of post-game shots for the story. The photos, in order, are of two of the game's star players - Minneapolis starting pitcher Kyle McKracken and Minneapolis shortstop Tim Churchill.

**Notable individual efforts
SP Kyle McKracken: 7 IP, 3 Ks, 1 BB, 2 Hs, 0 Rs
SS Tim Churchill: 4-for-4, 3B, 2B, 2 1Bs, BB, 2 SBs, RBI, 3 Rs
3B Mark Bearman: 2-for-3, SB
2B-RP Kirby Morsching: 1-for-2, 2B, R ... 2 IP, 2 Ks, o Hs, 0 Rs

CF-RP John Degerness: 1-for-3 ... 2 IP, 2 Ks, BB, H, 0 Rs

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